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Ethiopia: Terrorists Rule Mogadishu
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, July 4, 2006 – Members of a group listed by the United States as a terrorist band are now running the capital of neighboring Somalia, days after Islamic fighters wrested control of the city from warlords, Ethiopia's Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said on Tuesday.
"The renowned extremist and terrorist organization, al-Ittihad, is at the helm of the current leadership in Mogadishu," Meles told lawmakers during a review of the situation in Ethiopian relations with neighboring countries.
"We do not believe that all the forces that have taken control of Mogadishu and its surroundings are extremists."
Al-Ittihad is listed by the US as a terrorist group linked to al-Qaeda. Washington has accused the group of harboring al-Qaeda leaders responsible for deadly 1998 bombings at the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
United Nations officials say al-Ittihad operates openly as a religious organization and is a powerful economic force in southern Somalia, where it captured key towns from warlords in June.
UN experts monitoring an arms embargo on lawless Somalia described Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys -- head of the powerful consultative council of the group that controls Mogadishu -- as the al-Ittihad leader responsible for overseeing military training.
The military trainers for what constitutes "al-Ittihad's de facto army" reportedly include several Afghans and Yemenis, UN experts said in a report released early last year.
Aweys, however, has denied being al-Ittihad's leader and said the group has disbanded.
Despite the dramatic rise to power of the extremists, most residents and members of the group running Mogadishu are only interested in ending 15 years of anarchy and restoring peace and stability in the country, Meles said.
Still, Ethiopia is closely watching developments in Somalia and has deployed troops and military hardware on the border separating the two countries.
Ethiopian officials have previously accused al-Ittihad combatants of training, arming and helping Ethiopia's ethnic Somali and Oromo separatist fighters.
"Our beef is with al-Ittihad ... It so happens that at the moment the new leadership of the union of the courts is dominated by this particular group," Meles told journalists last week. "Now, the threat posed to Ethiopia by the dominance of the Islamic courts, by al-Ittihad is obvious.
"With regard to the implications of the resurgence of terrorist groups within Somalia on the security and stability of Ethiopia, naturally -- like any country -- we reserve the right to defend ourselves against all attempts to destabilize our security and stability," Meles said.
The hard-line Aweys replaced the more moderate Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, who charged on Sunday that Ethiopians had been illegally entering Somalia since June.
Abdulrahim Issa Adow, secretary to Aweys, said the group has put its fighters on alert but they have not sent combatants to attack Ethiopian troops, who are believed to be in areas outside the militia's control.
The Ethiopian government has supported the Somali Islamists' rivals with guns and money to keep them from taking power.
Somalia has been without an effective central government since the warlords turned on each other, carving much of the country into armed camps ruled by violence and clan law.